Atterbury jobs pay big money, raise bigger questions

Promises of job opportunities with weekly earnings of $1,000 to $3,500 for food service workers and janitors at Camp Atterbury recently raised some eyebrows as well as a rush to a job fair.

The jobs providing services to Afghan refugees temporarily calling the base home are real, but the advertised wages might not be quite all they’re cracked up to be.

Texas-based AIM World Services, which is not affiliated with AIM Media, held a job fair last week in Edinburgh looking to fill 100 jobs at Atterbury. However, the eye-popping pay the contractor promised in their promotions for the job fair came with a wink.

The company said a worker could, in theory, get one of those $3,500 checks — if he or she was a supervisor who worked 72 hours, or not quite twice as long as a typical full-time job.

Long hours notwithstanding, that still works out to more than $41 an hour (plus time-and-a-half for overtime) for top-level workers contracted for six-month assignments cooking and cleaning at the camp.

That’s great money, and AIM said it was overwhelmed with applicants. Who can blame local workers for being attracted by promises of that kind of pay? Even the low end of what AIM offered works out to $25 an hour (assuming its advertised $1,000 a week is based on a 40-hour work week) for jobs that in the current market typically pay about half that.

This might be great for 100 workers, but the way all of this developed is concerning for a number of reasons.

First, despite AIM World Services doing the hiring, the government is paying this bill, which means we’re paying this bill. And the bill seems exorbitant. Sure, Atterbury is a drive for most folks, but it doesn’t take a minimum of $25 an hour to attract workers.

Second, it’s unclear whether AIM is expecting top-level hires who want that $3,500 paycheck to work 18-hour shifts over four days, 12-hour shifts over six days, or some other combination of crazy hours to get to that payday.

Third, basic market economics suggest we taxpayers, if not the mission, would be better served by paying a little bit less to a greater number of people. Doing so would reduce the need to pay overtime. It also would provide greater flexibility in scheduling workers. And it would distribute this government largesse to a greater number of recipients.

Certainly it’s in AIM World Services’ interests, and the government’s interests, to adequately staff positions to facilitate the mission of hosting our Afghan guests who are here for a while on their journey to a new life in America.

And we’re all for workers earning good money. That’s good for them, good for their families and good for our community.

But we also believe the government needs to be accountable to taxpayers, and the manner in which this unfolded appears to lack accountability.

We understand that the job market is tough for employers these days. No one will work for minimum wage. Few want to work for less than $12 an hour. Those are just economic realities.

The mission to resettle Afghan refugees is a critical and sensitive one, and there is a need to staff Camp Atterbury with hard-working, caring and understanding people.

But finding people like that in our area is easy, and many would have rushed at the opportunity to play a role in this important chapter of our local history.

Even if they were only offered $20 an hour.